Over the next few weeks, I am running updated versions of our 17-part ‘Avios Redemption University’ series. These articles now reflect the recent Avios devaluation as well as other changes over the 18 months since the pieces were originally published.
This series of articles, which I group together as “Avios Redemption University”, cover some of the different ways of using your Avios. In particular, they highlight deals which offer surprisingly good value for your points, such as redeeming on ‘low tax’ airlines.
In this introductory post, I want to run through the key principles of redeeming your Avios points for flights.
Fundamentally, it is as simple as going to the ‘spend your Avios’ page on ba.com (assuming your Avios are sitting in British Airways Executive Club and not avios.com or Iberia Plus) and putting in the dates you want to fly. You can use the ‘Combine Your Avios’ function on ba.com to move all of your points into one account – transfers are free and instantaneous.
In reality, there are a huge number of nuances you need to understand. Much of it will come from experience, but there are some of the key points.
Understanding how Avios flights are priced
The basis of Avios pricing is this simple grid, which prices flights based on the one-way distance flown. This is the pricing chart introduced in April 2015:
The zones relate to the distance flown:
- Zone 1: 1 – 650 miles
- Zone 2: 651 – 1,150 miles
- Zone 3: 1,151 – 2,000 miles
- Zone 4: 2,001 – 3,000 miles
- Zone 5: 3,001 – 4,000 miles
- Zone 6: 4,001 – 5,500 miles
- Zone 7: 5,501 – 6,500 miles
- Zone 8: 6,501 – 7,000 miles
- Zone 9: 7,000+ miles
How do I know what my flight will cost?
You don’t need to start measuring the distance to your proposed destination! There is a calculator on ba.com which will tell you miles required for any direct redemption flight. Alternatively, and more quickly, you can find the price for any British Airways route using the chart here.
The list of peak and off-peak dates for the next 12 months can be found in this article. Flights with any airline other than British Airways and Iberia will ALWAYS price at the peak rate.
This pricing chart does NOT apply to flights on Iberia. The pricing chart for redemptions on Iberia, whether booked via ba.com or iberia.com, can be found in this article. Iberia also has its own list of peak and off-peak dates which differs from the British Airways list.
Note: There is a second British Airways Avios redemption pricing chart for trips which use two or more oneworld carriers apart from British Airways. This chart is rarely used and I do not discuss it very often, but you can find it here. A flight such as London – Berlin (BA) – Abu Dhabi (airberlin) – Doha (Qatar) would price off this chart. There is a permanent link to this chart under ‘Key ba.com links’ in the right hand margin of the desktop HFP site.
How is pricing calculated for connecting flights?
Pricing is based on EACH individual flight, not the distance between origin and destination. This means that the Avios charged for a particular route can vary depending on how you fly there:
London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways is non-stop and 3400 miles, so costs 13,000 miles in Economy one-way off-peak and 20,000 miles on a peak day
London to Abu Dhabi on Qatar Airways (or a mix of BA and Qatar) involves a change in Doha. London to Doha is 3,200 miles and Doha to Abu Dhabi is 230 miles. This means your flight will cost (20,000 + 4,500=) 24,500 Avios, one way. There is no difference between peak and off-peak pricing on partner airlines such as Qatar.
The only exception is when booking a UK domestic connection to/from London to connect to a long-haul flight. No additional Avios are required for this.
If you don’t have enough Avios for your flight, British Airways runs a scheme called ‘Avios and Money’ which allows you to use fewer Avios to book your flight in return for paying a cash fee. This is explained in more detail here.
What taxes are due?
Your cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and surcharges’. This is mainly a fuel surcharge and the UK Government’s Air Passenger Duty.
The charge vary amongst airlines. Further articles in this series will focus on low tax options with Aer Lingus, airberlin and Iberia. However, going back to my example above, London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways, return, has a tax charge of £292 in Economy.
This is, frankly, crazy. You can usually pick up an economy flight to Abu Dhabi or Dubai in a sale for around £350 return on BA or one of the Middle Eastern airlines.
Unless you fly on Aer Lingus or airberlin, or start your trip outside the UK, these taxes clearly make Economy redemptions in long haul poor value for money unless you are travelling at peak times such as school holidays. This is why Head for Points usually recommends redeeming in Business or First Class – the taxes will be around £500 per person, return, but this is still a fraction of the usual cash price of your seat.
Taxes and surcharges on European flights are capped at £35 for Economy and £50 for Business on British Airways flights. This makes short-haul redemptions good value in either class. The next article in this series looks at Reward Flight Saver in more detail.
Using Avios to upgrade
You can also use Avios points to upgrade a flight by one class on BA, Iberia and American Airlines. This is explained in our ‘How to Upgrade with Avios’ article.
The key points to know are:
You cannot upgrade from the cheapest non-refundable Economy tickets – this is meant to be changing in early 2016 although the details have not yet been released
You CAN upgrade from the cheapest World Traveller Plus or Club World fares to Club World or First Class respectively
The cost of an upgrade is the difference between an Avios redemption in the class booked and a redemption in the next highest class
You can upgrade at the time of booking or later, it makes no difference
You can only upgrade if there are Avios redemption seats available in the higher class
These upgrades are now substantially poorer value following the April 2015 Avios changes. Upgrading a return World Traveller Plus ticket to New York, for example, will now cost 48,000 Avios off peak and 40,000 Avios on a peak day.
How did I calculate this? A Zone 5 Club World redemption is 50,000 Avios one-way off-peak. A Zone 5 World Traveller Plus redemption is 26,000 Avios one-way off-peak. The cost of the upgrade is therefore (50,000 – 26,000 x 2 for a return =) 48,000 Avios.
You will still earn Avios and tier points for the original cash ticket you booked which reduces the net cost of the upgrade.
Which airlines can I redeem on?
A full list of the 37 (!) airlines which let you redeem Avios points can be found here.
British Airways Executive Club lets you redeem for all 15 airlines in the oneworld alliance plus Aer Lingus, Flybe, Comair (South Africa) and Alaska.
Aer Lingus redemptions CANNOT be booked online and there is no 100% certain way of checking availability before you call. A later article in this series will discuss Aer Lingus in more detail.
If you have British Airways Gold status, you will find more economy availability on British Airways flights on ba.com than avios.com. This is because BA opens up additional economy reward seats to its Gold members.
You may at times want to book on avios.com. Whilst they do NOT offer oneworld alliance partners except for Iberia and American Airlines, they do offer seats on Air Malta, Flybe, Monarch and Aurigny – you cannot book three of these four airlines at ba.com. Flybe availability also differs between avios.com and ba.com.
Do NOT book British Airways short haul flights on avios.com because the taxes are higher. I explain why in this article.
Long-haul redemptions on Iberia have SUBSTANTIALLY lower taxes when booked at iberia.com. You will save at least £300 per person. I will discuss this in a stand-alone article on Iberia later in this series.
Key facts to know when redeeming:
Availability opens up 355 days prior to departure for British Airways and most other airlines
At least four economy and two business class seats will be available immediately on BA flights. There is no guarantee of World Traveller Plus or First Class seats being available at 355 days out. Further seats will usually open up at random in the months approaching departure, depending on sales of cash tickets.
Avios redemption tickets can be changed or cancelled for a £35 per ticket fee, deducted from the refund of your taxes. All cash and Avios are returned, the Avios usually come back instantly. If you booked on ba.com and the taxes were lower than £35, you do not need to pay the difference. If you booked on avios.com and the taxes were lower than £35, you WILL need to pay the difference.
You can change the return even after you have flown the outbound, subject to Avios seats being available
Infants (under 2) who do not need a seat pay 10% of the standard Avios and 10% of the standard taxes
You can fly into one airport and out of another without penalty. These redemptions can only be booked over the telephone, unless you book them as two one-way redemptions.
It is OK to mix airlines when booking a redemption – you can fly British Airways to Doha and then Qatar Airways on to Dubai, for example, on the same ticket.
Flights on airlines other than BA and Iberia will ALWAYS be charged at the peak rate. If you combine a BA flight and a partner flight on the same one-way journey (eg London to Doha on BA and Doha to Dubai on Qatar) the BA flight will be charged at the peak rate irrespective of the BA ‘peak and off-peak’ calendar.
The ba.com website often struggles to offer all possible options when looking for redemptions to North America which involve a connection in the US. A good tip is to search via the American Airlines website at aa.com – you don’t need an account with them. Any reward seats which show as ‘sAAver’ flights on aa.com can be booked using Avios points – if you cannot get ba.com to bring up the flights then you need to call BA.
British Airways Gold members can book ANY BA flight for an Avios redemption, in ANY class. It will cost you double Avios and you cannot combine this with a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher. You need to ring BA and ask to book a Gold Priority Reward – more details here. These can only be booked up to 30 days before travel.
Want to learn more?
Keep an eye out for further updated articles in this series over the next few weeks. If you found this useful, you can share it with your friends via the social media buttons below.